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what is onomatopoeia in literature?

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Answer # 1 #

Boom! Pow! Whoosh! Wham!

All of these words are onomatopoeias, or words that sound like what they describe.

Onomatopoeia (pronounced ˌ’AH-nuh-mah-tuh-PEE-uh’) refers to words whose pronunciations imitate the sounds they describe. A dog’s bark sounds like “woof,” so “woof” is an example of onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia can be used to describe the gears of machines working, the horn of a car honking, animals croaking or barking, or any number of other sounds.

However, thereare some words like munch, sigh, or chew that are commonly mistaken for onomatopoeias, but they are not. Does the word ‘munch’ really sound like munching, at all? Or do we just think so because that’s what we call it? Does a sigh really sound like “sigh”? People disagree about these things. Of course, if it works, poetically, it doesn’t really matter. But, when you study literature, you should remember that words for sounds are not always onomatopoeia.

Some of the most common instances of onomatopoeias are words for the sounds animals make:

Dogs bark, ruff, woof, arf, and howl. Cats meow, hiss, and purr. Frogs croak, chirp, and ribbit. Cows go moo. Horses neigh and whinny. Lions roar. The rooster goes cock-a-doodle-do!

The list of animal onomatopoeias goes on and on.

Another common example of onomatopoeias are the sounds made by water:

Rain pitter-patters, drip-drops, and rat-a-tats on the tin roof. Creeks babble and churn. Lakes ripple. Rivers rush. Oceans crash, roar, and thunder against the shore.

Examples of onomatopoeia surround us. To find other examples, simply ask, “What sound does that make?” Often, the answer will be an example of onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeias are a valuable way to describe sound, creating the actual sound in the reader’s mind.This creates a vivid reading experience. For example, “The wind howled, hissed, and whooshed” is more expressive than “The wind blew.” Onomatopoeia can provide a poem or prose passage with sound imagery and rhythm which express the mood of the work. Furthermore, it makes descriptions more powerful and gives a sense of reality when readers can hear sounds, while reading words.

Onomatopoeias provide readers with exciting, realistic, and evocative descriptions of sound in both poetry and prose.

For an example of onomatopoeia in poetry, read this excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells”:

Poe describes bells which clang, clash, roar, twang, jangle, wrangle, sink, and swell. Such strong descriptions of their ringing serve to evoke feelings of horror, danger, and anger in this dramatic and eerie passage.

For a more fun and cheerful example of onomatopoeias in literature, Read this Shel Silverstein’s poem “Noise Day”:

This poem is essentially a collection of onomatopoeic words such as ‘buzz’ and ‘bang’ and also many evocative words for sounds which are not really onomatopoeia such as ‘scream’ and ‘burp.’ Silverstein celebrates the numerous loud and bombastic sounds children make before asking them to be quiet every other day of the year.

Onomatopoeias can be used in pop culture to create a mood or rhythm, especially in music where it fits in naturally.

For an example of onomatopoeias in pop culture, consider Ylvis’s song “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)”:

This comedic song uses onomatopoeia to draw attention to the fact that the fox, unlike many other animals, does not have a commonly known onomatopoeic sound.

Guesses for the fox’s sound range from wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow to ring-ding-ding-ding to bay-buh-day-bum-bay-dum. The idea of onomatopoeia is used as an excuse to introduce these fun musical nonsense vocals.

For a slightly subtler version of onomatopoeias used in song, listen to Charli XCX’s song “Boom Clap”:

The song “Boom Clap” is catchy, fun, and lighthearted. One reason why, is its use of onomatopoeias in the chorus:

Describing the heartbeat as boom and clap implies that the heart is full and energetic, like a pop song or happy party. Such a description conveys the happiness of the speaker, who has fallen in love.

(Terms: assonance and alliteration)

Like onomatopoeia, assonance uses sound to create rhythm and mood. Unlike onomatopoeia, assonance is not a specific word that imitates sounds, but the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. Here is an example of assonance versus onomatopoeia in the description of a river:

Sentence with Assonance:

The river wove hither and thither, glistening and misting over slivers of rocks.

The repetition of the ‘i” sound in river, hither, thither, glistening, misting, and slivers provides this sentence with rhythm and harmony, imitating the sound of rushing water to create sound imagery. Of course, the sound of a river is not literally like an “i”.

Sentence with Onomatopoeias:

The river slushed and rushed, bubbling and gurgling along the rocks.

Onomatopoeic words slushed, rushed, bubbling, and gurgling provide this sentence with a different rhyme, rhythm and sound imagery.

Like onomatopoeia, alliteration uses specific words and their sounds to create a rhythm and mood. Unlike onomatopoeia, alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Here is an example of alliteration versus onomatopoeia in the description of a girl on a slide:

Sentence with Alliteration:

Sally slipped on the slide and slid off sloppily.

The repetition of the ‘s’ sound at the beginning of Sally, slipped, slide, slid, and sloppily provides this sentence with rhythm. But,there is no literal connection between the sounds of the words and actual sliding (does sliding even have a sound?).

Sentence with Onomatopoeias:

Sally slipped with a whoop and bumped down onto the slide, swooshing to the bottom.

The use of words like whoop, bumped, and swooshed provides the reader with sound imagery, invoking a vivid image of Sally sliding down the slide.

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Vernee Hovde
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Answer # 2 #

Crash! Bang! Whiz! An onomatopoeia doesn’t just describe sounds, it emulates the sound itself. With this literary device, you can hear the meow of a cat, the whoosh of a bicycle, the whir of the laundry machine, and the murmur of a stream.

While some onomatopoeia words might seem juvenile to use, there are many more words to choose from. These sound devices can texture your writing with style and flare, while also drawing the reader into the world of your writing. So, let’s listen to this delightful tool that revs in the writer’s toolkit. We’ll take a look at some onomatopoeia examples in literature and discuss the surprising poetics of this euphonious device.

But first, let’s start with the basics, defining what an onomatopoeia is and isn’t. what is onomatopoeia?

An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the noise it describes. The spelling and pronunciation of that word is directly influenced by the sound it defines in real life. All onomatopoeia words describe specific sounds.

Some onomatopoeia examples include the words boing, gargle, clap, zap, and pitter-patter. When these words are used in context, you can almost hear what they describe: the boing of a spring, the clap of chalkboard erasers, and the pitter-patter of rain falling on the pavement like tiny footsteps.

Including onomatopoeia words in your writing can enhance the imagery of your story or poem. Technically, onomatopoeia is not a form of auditory imagery, because auditory imagery is the use of figurative language (like similes and metaphors) to describe sound. But, an onomatopoeia can certainly complement auditory imagery, as both devices heighten the sonic qualities of the work.

Note that not all onomatopoeia words are words listed in the dictionary. Many authors have made up their own sounds to complement their writing. In our onomatopoeia examples, you’ll see nonce words like “skulch,” “glush,” and “pit-a-pat.”

Sometimes, when these nonce onomatopoeia words are used often enough in everyday speech, they become dictionary entries. The etymology for “tattarrattat” is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is also the longest palindrome in the Oxford English Dictionary.

A relative of onomatopoeia, phanopoeia is a literary device in which the general sensation of something is emulated in the sounds of the words that the author uses.

This is easier demonstrated than explained. Read this short poem below, by Franz Wright:

In bold is phanopoeia. The repetition of “s” sounds, as well as the spaciousness of the poem’s stanza breaks, resembles the sounds of echoes in a mostly empty church. The reader can experience the vastness of the church through alliteration and stanza breaks. There is a sonic and spacious quality to the poem that the reader, if attentive, can climb into and never leave. The poem does not have onomatopoeia, however: none of the words used are emulating real life sounds.

Onomatopoeia is pronounced “On-oh-mah-tow-pee-uh.” The bolded syllables are stressed.

It’s a weird looking word, right? Onomatopoeia comes from the Greek “onoma” (word or name) + “poiein” (to make). In other words, this literary device is “word making,” as these words are invented using the sounds that they describe.

Poiein is also the root of the modern words “poet” and “poetry,” as the Greeks viewed the act of writing poetry as an act of invention, creating something from nothing.

Let’s take a look at how authors have used this device in some onomatopoeia examples.

Read the full poem here.

This poem, which is about the invasion of rats in a town called Hamelin, makes frequent use of onomatopoeia to emulate the sounds of scurrying rodents. Words like tap, scrape, and pit-a-pat situate the reader into the narrative poem’s anxiety and rat problems.

Read the full poem here.

There’s only one onomatopoeia here, and that’s the word buzz. The poem’s speaker hears this one final sound before her death. Thus, the buzzing carries a dual meaning: it is both figuratively and literally the only sound of the poem, and after that, silence.

Read the full poem here.

The chaotic, cacophonous sounds of this poem perfectly emulate the feeling of being in a jazz bar. The instruments mixed with the peoples’ conversations overwhelms the reader, and the poem’s structured improvisation resembles jazz itself.

Read the full text here.

This brief line offers so much context and imagery. With only the onomatopoeia words “pounding,” “clack,” and “clicks,” the reader can imagine a man standing at the edge of a cliff, overwhelmed by the grand endlessness of the world, feeling the terror of falling as pebbles skitter down the rocky earth.

Read the full poem here.

This poem’s tapping and rapping are so repetitive, the reader must feel how the speaker does—distracted and overwhelmed by an incessant sound. Poe is a master of using language to emulate sound: another poem of his, “The Bells,” repeats use of the word “bells” so much that the poem itself begins to jingle.

Read the full poem here.

Langston Hughes is a prominent voice of the Harlem Renaissance, capturing the sound and vitality of mid-century Harlem, New York. This poem’s sounds and overall musicality capture the liveliness of the era, situating the reader in the sweet and soulful atmosphere of a blue’s bar.

Read the full text (with annotations) here.

James Joyce is famous for inventing and torturing language—to the point that native English speakers don’t recognize their own mother tongue. That long bababada word is an onomatopoeia that is supposed to represent the sound of thunder during the fall of Adam and Eve. While this nonce word may seem nonsensical, it actually pulls from a variety of languages, including the word “thunder” in Swedish, Hindi, Japanese, Danish, Gaelic, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Read the full poem here.

E. Cummings’ Modernist poetry sought to translate experiences exactly as they happened. In “I Was Sitting in McSorley’s,” that experience is being drunk in a famous bar in the East Village, Manhattan. Cummings uses a variety of onomatopoeia words to capture the sounds and iniquities of the bar: real words, like tinking and slush, capture the sounds of drinks and glasses. But also, made-up words like glush, skulch, and ploc have a more disgusting sound to them, attempting to represent the grossness of the bar.

This poem has great onomatopoeia examples and phanopoeia examples. The repeated “sh” sounds make this poem feel blanketed by snow. You know how, after the first snowfall, the entire world is hushed? How there’s barely a breeze and no one outside and the sounds are muffled in blankets of “lovely whiteness”? This poem captures that through sound, making it an excellent onomatopoeia poem.

You can find an archive of this story here. Originally published in The New Yorker, and then in Murakami’s collection The Elephant Vanishes.

The following onomatopoeia list includes examples of the device that can be found in the dictionary.

Make note of two things: first, there are many onomatopoeia examples that exist outside of the dictionary. Because these words attempt to represent real sounds, they can be made up for whatever occasion in your own writing.

Second, some onomatopoeia words have multiple definitions. “Jingle,” for example, sounds like Christmas bells, but it also means a catchy song for advertising.

Try to use these fun sound words in your own writing!

Onomatopoeia words present an interesting conundrum to linguists and translators. Because these devices seek to directly emulate sound, one would assume that onomatopoeia words are the same across languages.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the case. For example, while in English the sound a dog makes is “woof” or “arf,” some Spanish speakers represent the dog’s bark as “guau;” in Japanese, “wan wan,” and in Catalan, “bup.”

How can this be? If you just speak English, you probably won’t hear “bup” no matter how much you listen to your dog. This conundrum points towards the unconscious ways that language shapes reality. The languages we speak restrict the sounds that we can produce and readily hear, so while an English speaker certainly hears their dog woof, a Japanese speaker undoubtedly hears their dog’s wan wan. (The Japanese language also possesses numerous onomatopoeia words, more than most languages do. Take a look at this list to see how Japanese language speakers hear sounds differently than English speakers.)

At the same time, many onomatopoeia examples in the English language come from Latin and Greek. “Bowwow,” for example, is influenced by the Latin baubor and the Greek bauzein, words which themselves are likely onomatopoeic. Of course, Latin and Greek root words make up about 60% of the English language dictionary. Perhaps that influences why we hear what the Ancient Greeks and Romans heard?

By noticing the ways that culture and language shape onomatopoeia words, you can also notice the many possible sounds that language hasn’t yet captured. The onomatopoeia is an experimental literary device, so play around with it, research how sounds are transcribed in other languages (for fun!), and lean into the possibilities of words and sounds.

Onomatopoeia words serve many different functions in writing. These include:

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Lakshvir Golatakar
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Answer # 3 #

Onomatopoeia indicates a word that sounds like what it refers to or describes. The letter sounds combined in the word mimic the natural sound of the object or action, such as hiccup. A word is considered onomatopoetic if its pronunciation is a vocal imitation of the sound associated with the word.

Onomatopoeia is used by writers and poets as figurative language to create a heightened experience for the reader. Onomatopoetic words are descriptive and provide a sensory effect and vivid imagery in terms of sight and sound. This literary device is prevalent in poetry, as onomatopoetic words are also conducive to rhymes.

The different sounds of animals are also considered as examples of onomatopoeia. You will recognize the following sounds easily:

Onomatopoeic words come in combinations, as they reflect different sounds of a single object. For example, a group of words reflecting different sounds of water are: plop, splash, gush, sprinkle, drizzle, and drip.

Similarly, words like growl, giggle, grunt, murmur, blurt, and chatter denote different kinds of human voice sounds.

Moreover, we can identify a group of words related to different sounds of wind, such as swish, swoosh, whiff, whoosh, whizz, and whisper.

Comics show their own examples of different types of onomatopoeia. Different comics use different panels where bubbles show different types of sounds. Although sometimes authors and illustrators show the exact sounds of animals, or the sound of the falling of something or some machines, somethings they create their own sounds as well. These sounds depend upon the inventiveness of the illustrator as well as the writer. Most of these sounds are crash, zap, pow, bang, or repetition of different letters in quick succession intended to create an impression of sounds.

Onomatopoeia not only creates rhythm but also beats, as the poets try to create sounds imitating the sound creators. These sounds create a sensory impression in the minds of the readers which they understand. The readers also understand the impacts of the sounds, their likely meanings, and their roles in creating those meanings. When used in poetry, onomatopoeia creates a rhythmic pattern that imitates the sounds in reality. This vice versa movement of sounds shows the onomatopoeic use of words to create a metrical pattern and rhyme scheme.

Onomatopoeia is frequently employed in the literature. We notice, in the following examples, the use of onomatopoeia gives rhythm to the texts. This makes the descriptions livelier and more interesting, appealing directly to the senses of the reader.

Below, a few Onomatopoeia examples are highlighted in bold letters:

Onomatopoeia, in its more complicated use, takes the form of phanopoeia. Phanopoeia is a form of onomatopoeia that describes the sense of things, rather than their natural sounds. D. H. Lawrence, in his poem Snake, illustrates the use of this form:

The rhythm and length of the above lines, along with the use of “hissing” sounds, create a picture of a snake in the minds of the readers.

Generally, words are used to tell what is happening. Onomatopoeia, on the other hand, helps readers to hear the sounds of the words they reflect. Hence, the reader cannot help but enter the world created by the poet with the aid of these words. The beauty of onomatopoeic words lies in the fact that they are bound to have an effect on the readers’ senses, whether that effect is understood or not. Moreover, a simple plain expression does not have the same emphatic effect that conveys an idea powerfully to the readers. The use of onomatopoeic words helps create emphasis.

Onomatopoeia does not have any synonyms. However, some words come very close to it in meanings such as sounds, imitation of sounds, onomatope, alliteration, echo, echoism, and mimesis. Yet, they have different meanings of their own.

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Rom Stahl
Freelancer
Answer # 4 #

In this lesson, we learned about onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is a way that writers create sound in their work using words that sound like the noise they make. This can add interesting and dramatic effect to a poem or other piece of writing. Practice what you have learned using the following exercises!

For the following examples, add a word into the blank that captures the sound being described in the sentence.

1. The water _____ loudly into the bucket.

2. The librarian _____ the talkative girls in the library.

3. The two drivers _____ angrily at each other from inside their cars.

Try identifying some of the onomatopoeia words in the following excerpt of Shel Silverstein's poem "Noise Day."

"Let's have one day for girls and boyses

When you can make the grandest noises.

Screech, scream, holler, and yell–

Buzz a buzzer, clang a bell,

Sneeze–hiccup–whistle–shout,

Laugh until your lungs wear out,

Toot a whistle, kick, a can,

Bang a spoon against a pan,

Sing, yodel, bellow, hum,

Blow a horn, beat a drum,

Rattle a window, slam a door,

Scrape a rake across the floor..."

1. splashes

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Nigar Sheshadri
TRACTOR MECHANIC
Answer # 5 #
  • The dog barked all night.
  • The mouse went squeak as it ran across the room.
  • Suddenly, there was a loud thud at the door.
  • The waves crashed against the side of the boat.
  • The sausages are sizzling in the pan.
  • The corn went pop in the microwave.
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Florette Bowe
Mechanical Engineer
Answer # 6 #

: the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz, hiss)

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Faune Kwei
Set Designer
Answer # 7 #

Crash! Bang! Whiz! An onomatopoeia doesn’t just describe sounds, it emulates the sound itself. With this literary device, you can hear the meow of a cat, the whoosh of a bicycle, the whir of the laundry machine, and the murmur of a stream.

While some onomatopoeia words might seem juvenile to use, there are many more words to choose from. These sound devices can texture your writing with style and flare, while also drawing the reader into the world of your writing. So, let’s listen to this delightful tool that revs in the writer’s toolkit. We’ll take a look at some onomatopoeia examples in literature and discuss the surprising poetics of this euphonious device.

But first, let’s start with the basics, defining what an onomatopoeia is and isn’t. what is onomatopoeia?

An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the noise it describes. The spelling and pronunciation of that word is directly influenced by the sound it defines in real life. All onomatopoeia words describe specific sounds.

Some onomatopoeia examples include the words boing, gargle, clap, zap, and pitter-patter. When these words are used in context, you can almost hear what they describe: the boing of a spring, the clap of chalkboard erasers, and the pitter-patter of rain falling on the pavement like tiny footsteps.

Including onomatopoeia words in your writing can enhance the imagery of your story or poem. Technically, onomatopoeia is not a form of auditory imagery, because auditory imagery is the use of figurative language (like similes and metaphors) to describe sound. But, an onomatopoeia can certainly complement auditory imagery, as both devices heighten the sonic qualities of the work.

Note that not all onomatopoeia words are words listed in the dictionary. Many authors have made up their own sounds to complement their writing. In our onomatopoeia examples, you’ll see nonce words like “skulch,” “glush,” and “pit-a-pat.”

Sometimes, when these nonce onomatopoeia words are used often enough in everyday speech, they become dictionary entries. The etymology for “tattarrattat” is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is also the longest palindrome in the Oxford English Dictionary.

A relative of onomatopoeia, phanopoeia is a literary device in which the general sensation of something is emulated in the sounds of the words that the author uses.

This is easier demonstrated than explained. Read this short poem below, by Franz Wright:

In bold is phanopoeia. The repetition of “s” sounds, as well as the spaciousness of the poem’s stanza breaks, resembles the sounds of echoes in a mostly empty church. The reader can experience the vastness of the church through alliteration and stanza breaks. There is a sonic and spacious quality to the poem that the reader, if attentive, can climb into and never leave. The poem does not have onomatopoeia, however: none of the words used are emulating real life sounds.

Onomatopoeia is pronounced “On-oh-mah-tow-pee-uh.” The bolded syllables are stressed.

It’s a weird looking word, right? Onomatopoeia comes from the Greek “onoma” (word or name) + “poiein” (to make). In other words, this literary device is “word making,” as these words are invented using the sounds that they describe.

Poiein is also the root of the modern words “poet” and “poetry,” as the Greeks viewed the act of writing poetry as an act of invention, creating something from nothing.

Let’s take a look at how authors have used this device in some onomatopoeia examples.

Read the full poem here.

This poem, which is about the invasion of rats in a town called Hamelin, makes frequent use of onomatopoeia to emulate the sounds of scurrying rodents. Words like tap, scrape, and pit-a-pat situate the reader into the narrative poem’s anxiety and rat problems.

Read the full poem here.

There’s only one onomatopoeia here, and that’s the word buzz. The poem’s speaker hears this one final sound before her death. Thus, the buzzing carries a dual meaning: it is both figuratively and literally the only sound of the poem, and after that, silence.

Read the full poem here.

The chaotic, cacophonous sounds of this poem perfectly emulate the feeling of being in a jazz bar. The instruments mixed with the peoples’ conversations overwhelms the reader, and the poem’s structured improvisation resembles jazz itself.

Read the full text here.

This brief line offers so much context and imagery. With only the onomatopoeia words “pounding,” “clack,” and “clicks,” the reader can imagine a man standing at the edge of a cliff, overwhelmed by the grand endlessness of the world, feeling the terror of falling as pebbles skitter down the rocky earth.

Read the full poem here.

This poem’s tapping and rapping are so repetitive, the reader must feel how the speaker does—distracted and overwhelmed by an incessant sound. Poe is a master of using language to emulate sound: another poem of his, “The Bells,” repeats use of the word “bells” so much that the poem itself begins to jingle.

Read the full poem here.

Langston Hughes is a prominent voice of the Harlem Renaissance, capturing the sound and vitality of mid-century Harlem, New York. This poem’s sounds and overall musicality capture the liveliness of the era, situating the reader in the sweet and soulful atmosphere of a blue’s bar.

Read the full text (with annotations) here.

James Joyce is famous for inventing and torturing language—to the point that native English speakers don’t recognize their own mother tongue. That long bababada word is an onomatopoeia that is supposed to represent the sound of thunder during the fall of Adam and Eve. While this nonce word may seem nonsensical, it actually pulls from a variety of languages, including the word “thunder” in Swedish, Hindi, Japanese, Danish, Gaelic, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Read the full poem here.

E. Cummings’ Modernist poetry sought to translate experiences exactly as they happened. In “I Was Sitting in McSorley’s,” that experience is being drunk in a famous bar in the East Village, Manhattan. Cummings uses a variety of onomatopoeia words to capture the sounds and iniquities of the bar: real words, like tinking and slush, capture the sounds of drinks and glasses. But also, made-up words like glush, skulch, and ploc have a more disgusting sound to them, attempting to represent the grossness of the bar.

This poem has great onomatopoeia examples and phanopoeia examples. The repeated “sh” sounds make this poem feel blanketed by snow. You know how, after the first snowfall, the entire world is hushed? How there’s barely a breeze and no one outside and the sounds are muffled in blankets of “lovely whiteness”? This poem captures that through sound, making it an excellent onomatopoeia poem.

You can find an archive of this story here. Originally published in The New Yorker, and then in Murakami’s collection The Elephant Vanishes.

The following onomatopoeia list includes examples of the device that can be found in the dictionary.

Make note of two things: first, there are many onomatopoeia examples that exist outside of the dictionary. Because these words attempt to represent real sounds, they can be made up for whatever occasion in your own writing.

Second, some onomatopoeia words have multiple definitions. “Jingle,” for example, sounds like Christmas bells, but it also means a catchy song for advertising.

Try to use these fun sound words in your own writing!

Onomatopoeia words present an interesting conundrum to linguists and translators. Because these devices seek to directly emulate sound, one would assume that onomatopoeia words are the same across languages.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the case. For example, while in English the sound a dog makes is “woof” or “arf,” some Spanish speakers represent the dog’s bark as “guau;” in Japanese, “wan wan,” and in Catalan, “bup.”

How can this be? If you just speak English, you probably won’t hear “bup” no matter how much you listen to your dog. This conundrum points towards the unconscious ways that language shapes reality. The languages we speak restrict the sounds that we can produce and readily hear, so while an English speaker certainly hears their dog woof, a Japanese speaker undoubtedly hears their dog’s wan wan. (The Japanese language also possesses numerous onomatopoeia words, more than most languages do. Take a look at this list to see how Japanese language speakers hear sounds differently than English speakers.)

At the same time, many onomatopoeia examples in the English language come from Latin and Greek. “Bowwow,” for example, is influenced by the Latin baubor and the Greek bauzein, words which themselves are likely onomatopoeic. Of course, Latin and Greek root words make up about 60% of the English language dictionary. Perhaps that influences why we hear what the Ancient Greeks and Romans heard?

By noticing the ways that culture and language shape onomatopoeia words, you can also notice the many possible sounds that language hasn’t yet captured. The onomatopoeia is an experimental literary device, so play around with it, research how sounds are transcribed in other languages (for fun!), and lean into the possibilities of words and sounds.

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Jayesh Kochhar
BIBLIOGRAPHER